Protesters with face masks hold signs at a rally.

LA Times Op-Ed: Vietnamese refugees who’ve served prison time unjustly face deportation. That must change

Check out this must-read opinion editorial published in the LA Times on April 7, 2021, written by Thai Viet Phan, Santa Ana’s first Vietnamese American city council member. Read the op-ed below. Vietnamese language version coming soon. We thank Council member Phan for working with us on this op-ed and for her strong support and dedication to defending immigrant and refugee communities from detention and deportation. 

We urge Governor Gavin Newsom and members of the California legislature to take the right step forward and help end anti-Asian and anti-immigrant violence by pardoning refugee An Nguyen and passing AB 937 – the VISION Act!

Protesters with face masks hold signs at a rally.

A protest is held in Orange County’s Little Saigon on March 14, the day before ICE deported about 33 Vietnamese immigrants to Vietnam. (Courtesy of Tim Phan)


Like me, An Thanh Nguyen is a Vietnamese refugee. We both came here as children. After a life largely spent in Santa Ana, I became the city’s first Vietnamese American council member last year. Nguyen, whose family lives in nearby Cypress, is facing deportation to Vietnam.

I know all too well the seemingly insurmountable obstacles that confront families and children seeking to rebuild their lives in a foreign land. Like many Vietnamese refugees, Nguyen’s father fought alongside the U.S. during the Vietnam War; he spent four years as a prisoner of war. After Nguyen’s mother fled the country in 1985, her seven children finally joined her in 1990.

While resettling in the U.S., Nguyen — facing poverty, racism and bullying — struggled to fit in and feel at home. He was a young man when his life took a wrong turn, and he committed several robberies. While serving more than 20 years in state prison, he took advantage of programs that could help him turn his life around.

Yet, upon completing his prison sentence in October 2019, he was immediately transferred to the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement instead of being released to his family and community or given the opportunity to rebuild his life. He was detained, released, detained again — and was last released a year ago.

However, his nightmare has not ended. Nguyen can be deported at any time for being an immigrant who committed a crime — despite a 2008 agreement between the U.S. and Vietnam that excludes Vietnamese nationals who arrived here before July 12, 1995, from being deported to Vietnam.

More than 2,000 Southeast Asian refugees, including Vietnamese refugees who arrived before 1995, have been deported from the U.S. since 2017. As of 2018, about 8,000 Vietnamese immigrants who came to the U.S. at a young age had been impacted by the criminal justice system and the immigration system — both of which can be unforgiving. Nearly 7,700 Vietnamese immigrants currently facing deportation have a criminal conviction.

This detention of immigrants who have already served their prison sentences is known as “double punishment.” Even though Nguyen is no longer in ICE detention, he still wakes up every day unsure whether he will be deported to Vietnam. ICE can choose at any moment to expel him from the U.S., and only a pardon from Gov. Gavin Newsom can prevent that from happening.  

Newsom must immediately use his executive power to pardon Nguyen, who is among the thousands of immigrants who continue to face potential deportation to a country most have not seen since they were children.

And once AB 937 makes its way through the state Legislature, Gov. Newsom must sign it into law. The bill, [otherwise known as the VISION Act and] introduced in February, would protect immigrants who have been deemed eligible for release from being transferred from state prisons and local jails to ICE detention. Leading Asian American organizations such as VietRISE and Asian Americans Advancing Justice-California have made clear that this bill is needed to prevent immigrants like Nguyen from being unjustly transferred to ICE detention after completing their jail or prison sentences.

My November election to the City Council in Santa Ana — which has one of the nation’s largest immigrant communities — came after years of attacks on immigrant and refugee communities by the Trump administration, which increased Southeast Asian detainment and deportations by ICE by more than 100% across the country. I am the representative for Ward 1, which has Santa Ana’s largest population of Vietnamese residents, and my constituency has been especially hurt by these attacks.

Despite the Biden administration’s promises to do better by our country’s Asian immigrant communities, ICE deported about 33 Vietnamese immigrants and refugees to Vietnam on March 15. A day before the flight departed, protesters in Westminster Park chanted, “Deporting Vietnamese refugees is anti-Asian violence.” I agree. 

The continued deportation of victims of war and of immigrants and refugees is not only wrong but also unconscionable and cruel. The country cannot continue to perpetuate this hateful, inhumane practice.

Thai Viet Phan is a member of the Santa Ana City Council. Her letter to Gov. Newsom in support of An Thanh Nguyen’s pardon can be found here. A petition in support of Nguyen can be found here.

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PRESS RELEASE: California Resolution Calling on Congress to Abolish ICE Passes Committee, Heads to Assembly Floor Vote with Support from Civil Rights Advocates

For Immediate Release                                                     
April 14, 2021

Media contacts:

Roseryn Bhudsabourg, Director of Communications
Office of Assemblymember Ash Kalra
Office: (916) 319-2027,

Lande Watson, Communications Coordinator
Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus
Office: (415) 212-8588,

Allison Vo, Organizing Coordinator

California Resolution Calling on Congress to Abolish ICE Passes Committee, Heads to Assembly Floor Vote with Support from Civil Rights Advocates

SACRAMENTO – On the heels of last week’s committee passage of the VISION Act (AB 937), Assembly Joint Resolution 1 (AJR 1) by Assemblymember Ash Kalra (D-San Jose) passed a key committee vote with support from civil rights organizations Asian Americans Advancing Justice – California and VietRISE. The California resolution calls on Congress to abolish the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency and is now eligible to be heard on the floor this month for a full Assembly vote.

Organizations supporting both AJR 1 and the VISION Act, which would protect community members who have already been deemed eligible for release from being transferred by local jails and state prisons to ICE for immigration detention and deportation, are joining forces to denounce ICE and advocate for freedom for refugees who have been targeted for detainment and deportation.

Since its establishment almost 20 years ago, ICE has routinely engaged in violent human rights abuses, using deceptive practices and billions of dollars in federal funding to achieve its sole purpose of inhumane detention and deportation. Under the Trump administration, deportations of Southeast Asians, particularly those with criminal convictions, grew at an alarming rate.

“ICE has consistently demonstrated an inability to fulfill its duties without violating due process, human rights, transparency, public accountability, or an adherence to domestic and international law,” said Assemblymember Kalra. “The agency continues to target those who escaped political persecution and genocide to come to the United States in search of freedom and opportunity. I am proud that California is choosing to take a stand against the cruel practices of ICE, but there is still much more work to be done. I urge my colleagues to stand up for our community members and stop our state from collaborating with ICE to punish people who call California home.”

“Detainment and deportation has continued under the Biden administration and still poses a grave risk to our community members. The recently issued Biden immigration enforcement memo, which continues to allow ICE to detain immigrants with aggravated felony convictions, makes clear that ICE will continue to cage immigrants and tear apart immigrant and  refugee communities, no matter the administration,” said Angela Chan, policy director and senior staff attorney at Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus. “This is why California must support AJR 1 and pass legislation like the VISION Act to end ICE transfers because the state should not be assisting ICE, an agency whose mission is incompatible with a humane and just immigration system.”

Advocates are also calling on Governor Gavin Newsom to immediately pardon Southeast Asian refugees who have been targeted for detainment and deportation by ICE. A recent Los Angeles Times op-ed penned by Santa Ana City Councilmember Thai Viet Phanhighlights the ongoing plight of thousands of Southeast Asian refugees impacted by the criminal justice system and the immigration system.

To date, more than 2,000 Southeast Asian Americans have been deported from the United States, and hundreds more, like An Thanh Nguyen—a Vietnamese refugee who came to the United States as a child—still face deportation after having served their prison sentences. Facing poverty, racism and bullying as a youth, Mr. Nguyen made a mistake that resulted in robbery convictions. While incarcerated for 20 years, Mr. Nguyen worked to turn his life around. However, upon his release in 2019, he was transferred to ICE detention despite completing his prison sentence. Today, Mr. Nguyen faces deportation to Vietnam and permanent separation from his family, who are in California. The Biden administration’s most recent ICE enforcement memo puts him at even greater risk by targeting immigrants and refugees with criminal convictions.

“For many refugees like An, a pardon from Governor Newsom is the only way to prevent deportation and further harassment by ICE. We appreciate Assemblymember Kalra for championing measures like AJR 1 and the VISION Act, and for joining us to call for immediate pardons and an end to ICE’s destructive presence in our communities,” said Tracy La, Executive Director of VietRISE. “Local and statewide leaders have the power to dismantle ICE and end its inhumane detention and deportation practices in California—we need them to use it.”

AJR 1 is joint-authored by Assemblymembers David Chiu (D-San Francisco), Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens), Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), and Miguel Santiago (D-Los Angeles). The resolution is also co-authored by Assemblymembers Wendy Carrillo (D-Boyle Heights), Mike Gipson (D-Carson), Alex Lee (D-San Jose), Luz Rivas (D-Arleta), Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), and Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland), and Senators Sydney Kamlager (D-Los Angeles), Mike McGuire (D-Healdsburg), Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), and Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco).

The VISION Act is authored by Assemblymember Wendy Carrillo, joint-authored by Assemblymembers Kalra and Santiago, principal co-authored by Senators Wiener and Gonzalez and Assemblymember Chiu.  The bill also is co-authored by Assemblymembers Cristina Garcia, Gipson, Chris Holden (D–Pasadena), Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D–South Los Angeles), Lee, Rivas, Ting, Wicks, and Senators María Elena Durazo (D-Los Angeles), Ben Hueso (D-San Diego), Josh Newman (D-Fullerton), and Skinner.


Assemblymember Ash Kalra represents the 27th District, which encompasses approximately half of San Jose and includes all of downtown. He is the Chair of the Assembly Committee on Labor and Employment and also serves as a member on the Housing and Community Development, Judiciary, Transportation, and Water, Parks, and Wildlife committees. For more information, visit

Asian Law Caucus (ALC) was founded in 1972 as the nation’s first legal and civil rights Asian American organization. Recognizing that social, economic, political and racial inequalities continue to exist in the United States, ALC is committed to the pursuit of equality and justice for all sectors of our society, with a specific focus directed toward addressing the needs of low-income, immigrant and underserved Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. For more information, visit

VietRISE is an immigrant and social justice non-profit organization based in Orange County, CA, dedicated to advancing social and economic justice by organizing working-class Vietnamese and immigrant communities in the county. For more information, visit